Jesus, after His Resurrection promised His Apostles that He would send them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. (Acts 1:5) John the Baptist also foretold this: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Mt 3:11)
On the 50th day, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles as tongues of fire. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4) This was a fulfillment of the Prophet Joel: after this it shall come to pass that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh. (3:1) Why the number 50? Well, 7 days in a week times 7 weeks after Pascha makes 49 days. Yet, an extra day is added to make 50 which has an eschatological dimension to it; referring to God’s eternal Kingdom. The day before Pentecost is the Saturday of Souls. We commemorate the dead, since the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thess 4 16-17) The other Saturday of Souls is the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, aka Meatfare Sunday. That Sunday relates to the Second Coming of Christ who will judge the living and the dead. Similarly with Pentecost, the feast is about the Descent of the Holy Spirit but also an anticipation for the life to come when Christ returns in all His Glory.
Pentecost is the reversal of the Tower of Babel where God confused the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach heaven. At Pentecost, the Apostles were enabled by the Holy Spirit to speak in different languages so that the Gospel would be preached throughout the entire world. As we heard in the Doxastikon at Vespers on the eve of Pentecost: tongues were confused once because people dared to build the Tower. Tongues now obtain skill, for the glory of divine knowledge. There, God condemned the impious for their transgression; here, by the Spirit, Christ illumined the fishermen. Then, discord was contrived as penalization; now a new accord has arrived, for the salvation of our souls. This great hymn teaches us that the will of God is essential. It was not God’s will for the Tower of Babel to have been built. Yet at the appropriate time destined by God, He granted His Spirit to illumine the fisherman to become fishers of men. The Tower of Babel was not for the benefit of mankind. God had a different plan of salvation and does not forsake His people.
Many say Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church but this is not accurate. The Church came into existence from the creation of the Angelic Hosts which was before the creation of the world. Instead Pentecost was the ordination of the Apostles. Christ commanded them before His Ascension: Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19)…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mk 16:15) Christ’s commandment is better known as the Great Commission. The priesthood of the New Israel is established at Pentecost. All the canonical bishops today are successors to the Apostles.
The Divine work of redemption has been completed. Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us. He was crucified, resurrected on the third day and ascended into Heaven. He fulfilled His promise when He sent us the Comforter. The Trinity has been revealed to us, One God in three Persons. The Exaposteilaria at Orthros on the Feast confirms: Light is the Father, light is the Logos; light is the Holy Spirit, which was sent to the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues, and through which the entire world is guided by the light to worship the Holy Trinity.
Sunday of Pentecost tends to be a long day liturgically but we must remember that on that day three different services are occurring. In the morning is Sunday Orthros followed by the Divine Liturgy but after liturgy we have vespers. The vespers lead us to Monday, which is the Synaxis of the Holy Spirit. It is at the vespers and not the liturgy that for the first time since Holy Saturday that we kneel. We never kneel on a Sunday since it is the Lord’s Day and dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ. However, since vespers is the transition into the next day which would be Monday in this case, kneeling is permitted. There are three prayers read at the vespers, each of them we kneel for. The first prayer is penitential, asking God for forgiveness of our sins. The second prayer is invoking the Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us and teach us. The third prayer commemorates those who have gone before us. We pray for the remission of their sins and for God to grant them life eternal. Also for the first time since Holy Saturday we recite: O Heavenly King, O comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of Life; Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord. We say this prayer in the Trisagion Prayers but from Pascha until Pentecost this prayer is omitted in anticipation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the 50th day.
Traditionally vespers are done in the evening but for pastoral purposes the vespers of Pentecost commence immediately after liturgy. It is tradition on this day that the vestments of the clergy, the covering on the Holy Table and other banners be green. Green in the Orthodox Church is representative of the Holy Spirit. Green is the color of vegetation which is food and food sustains life and thus the Holy Spirit is the Creator of Life. We receive the seal of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, it is called Chrismation.
Let us rejoice that Christ has sent us the Comforter, the Giver of Life. The Holy Spirit is here to guide us, to protect us and lead us to eternal life.
A Blessed Feast to All!